Gluten is a really interesting topic these days. It's become something of a cliche, joked about, eye-rolled at . . basically all the good stuff.
But is gluten actually bad for EVERYONE?
I received a super cool infographic from MedAlertHelp (below), asking if I thought it was a decent explanation of gluten and the issues behind it. All in all, I actually did. The stats are really interesting (see for yourself) and it's got some helpful lists and easy-to-understand breakdowns that could prove helpful if printed and placed on the fridge.
So check that out below, but first I thought I would fire off my thoughts about gluten in a few brief points.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the general term for types of proteins (primarily Glutenin and Gliadin) found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. These proteins provide the gluey elasticity of these foods (think of really fluffy bouncy bread - that's gluten). There's more gluten in today's crops than our ancestors ate, and it’s hidden in a ton of things now (see below). We're overexposed!
Is everyone allergic?
NO. But more people than we think might be sensitive to it. And we definitely consume too much of it in breads, pastas and cereals. Sometimes it’s even snuck into things like chocolate, shampoos and conditioners (not that you eat those latter two, but your skin does absorb what you put on it!).
Celiac Disease - the more commonly known Gluten Disease
This affects about 1% of the North American population, and is an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten that causes the body to attack the lining of the intestinal walls, resulting in pain, cramps and nutrient-malabsorption. It should be noted however, that pain and cramping is not always present, even if a person has the disease. Because of this, it can be a tricky thing to diagnose.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
THIS is becoming more common, affecting roughly 6% of the population. However, NCGS is more controversial than celiac disease, which is easier to pinpoint. It is not an autoimmune condition, nor a "true" allergy - it's a delayed response to gluten that can cause a range of symptoms, and is often hard to pinpoint because it can veer far from just gut issues. (1) Symptoms can include bloating, cramping, constipation, acid-reflux, skin rashes (2) , joint pain, fatigue, lethargy, brain fog, numbness and headaches. Symptoms are also not immediate, making it that much more tricky to diagnose.
Is it needed in a healthy diet?
Absolutely not. It confers no benefit aside from protein intake, which you can easily acquire from other foods. If you are not sensitive to it, once in a while is okay (I'll get flack for that one I'm sure).
A note on autoimmunity.
If you have an autoimmune condition (especially thyroid), I do advise going completely gluten free. When the body mounts an immune attack on gluten (common with people with autoimmunity), the body can mistake its own tissue for gluten because, simply put, they look similar on a molecular level. (3) So for example, if you eat gluten, the body will attack it and attack the thyroid gland at the same time, because of a case of mistaken identity.
I'll say it again.
IF you have thyroid issues, GO GLUTEN FREE. (4) More on that here.
Do I eat Gluten?
Occasionally, yes. But it's not part of my everyday diet. Based on MY symptomatology, I seem to be okay in the hours and days following consumption. I DO however, retain more water in these days, which never feels great. Do I break out a little more in the days following consumption? Possibly, but that could also be due to other factors. I DO know that I think clearer when I don't have gluten in my diet, and I have more energy.
I think everyone should go gluten-free for a period of 1 month and SEE how they feel. See if you have more energy, less brain fog, better skin and more pep in your step. Then depending, have it occasionally if you feel like it. You should NOT be eating it every day, and I do believe a gluten-free diet is more or less essential for optimal health in this day and age, partly because we've modified our foods and products to contain more gluten than ever before.
So with all that, here's the cool infographic!